Usually running 9:07 as a junior would earn a runner national acclaim. However, Tom Achtein (Sr., York, IL) continues to fly under the radar despite running under 9:10 twice last spring and leading his team to another Nike Team National birth last fall (plus another state cross country title). This year, Achtein looks to add his name to the historic York record books, as he reaches for the next level in his final high school year.
MileSplit US Interviews: Tom Achtein
(Photos By Thomas Rizzo)
MileSplit US (MSUS): Thanks for agreeing to this interview Tom. I am sure many out there are wondering how you are doing right now. How is your training going?
Tom Achtein (TA): Thanks a lot, Scott. We start to peak the week of conference, which is always a nice change...But there is no doubt we still put in mileage in the morning and during workouts. Right now the VO2 Max workouts are the toughest ones, which are on each Monday of the week, but the training now is nothing like it was in September.
MSUS: You've been very competitive this season thus far, with big wins at the Palatine Invitational and the Peoria Central Invitational. What are your feelings on the season for both yourself and your team, and what are your goals the rest of the way?
TA: Well, yeah, I've been competitive so far, but I haven't accomplished anything yet. The goal in mind is the state championship. I am doing everything I can to win that individual title, but it would feel so empty if we didn't win the team championship. In my four years at York I've never seen the varsity lose a meet, and this year we lost at Palatine which was a different experience for us. Usually we have to worry about becoming complacent, but this year we have to worry about getting our heads straight. Come November, we will be fit, but so will every other team in the state. If everything goes our way, we are a contending team, but nothing in life is guaranteed.
MSUS: State is just around the corner and you are one of the main contenders. What do you anticipate happening during the race, and have you practiced responding to any moves that may occur during the race?
TA: I am anticipating a pretty quick start, which I will be ready for. I know that there will be a few great runners that will distance themselves from the field, a bit like last year's state meet. When I think about the surges and moves that are going to happen during the race, I know we'll be prepared because of the AT training and surge training we do basically every day during the warm-up or segments. Hopefully [Chris] Derrick [Sr., Neuqua Valley, IL] and [Kevin] Havel [Sr., Hersey, IL] are going to be up there battling with me, and I can't wait to race these solid runners.
MSUS: You've progressed exceptionally well over the past few years. You really came onto the scene as a sophomore, and made steady improvements each year. What do you attribute to those gains? How has your training changed each year to make sure you can keep on improving?
TA: I've got to attribute most of my success to Mr. Newton, because of his coaching and training. I run around 10-20 miles per week more than I did in years prior, but the intensity of the training has definitely gone up as well. Mr. Kern is always there pushing me in the workouts, he's a great role model to have on the team. Mr. Newton keeps records of all the workouts, so it's easy to see how you've improved over the years in 7x1200 or 12x880 workouts. It's pretty sweet to see kids improve by 30 seconds on their average in one year.
MSUS: Last year a scandal broke out right around this time. Your team lost your two main coaches for the state meet and for the entire track season. What was that like, and how did the team push through those difficult times?
TA: Our coaches always teach adversity. It was just like when we lost two of the top five my sophomore year. We banded together and got the job done for the coaches. Down at state there were so many of the alumni coming from all over the country because they heard that York was in trouble. We got over the adversity because we are so much of a family on this team. With Mr. Newton and Mr. Kern, they teach us that a person's character is defined when no one is looking. Without the coaches there watching over us, we had to show the character that they had instilled in us. It was terrible to lose them, but they had prepared us for something like this in cross country and in life.
MSUS: Being apart of the York program is something special. Being a Duke means being a part of the most storied program in high school distance running. Having Mr. Newton and Mr. Kern be such strong role models, winning so often, and having teammates that seem so close, what does being a part of the York family mean to you?
TA: Being part of York is an incredible experience. This weekend we had conference at home, and that is always an emotional time for all of the seniors. We realize that our cross country lives at York are about to end. We dedicated a third of our lives to this program, and you finally see that it's going to be over before you know it. I always tell the underclassmen to savor every single moment of the York experience, because it goes by way too fast! I wish I could go back and do it over again, it's such an amazing time. It's really depressing to think that I am going to not be running with a bunch of hilarious group six guys, singing songs and joking, or running with the guys that I've been friends with for four years, or having hour long meetings before we go run. I've seen great people leave and graduate with a legacy behind them, and it's a bit weird to be the one leaving this time.
MSUS: Every day Mr. Newton talks to the team about life. He reads quotes, tells stories and tries to teach each of you something. What is the one thing that you have learned the most over your four years at York?
TA: Oh man, there are so many ideas and principles that Mr. Newton has instilled in us, but there are a few that stick out to me. He has this one quote: "It's nice to be great, but it's far great to be nice." When I think of this, I think of kids that we're great runners, but we're a bit on the cocky side. When I run I want to make sure that I respect the guys I am racing and they respect me. Another one that stands out is his quote: "Adversity makes the man." I love this one because our coaches not only train us for cross country, but they train us for life. Cross [country] has really helped me hurdle some adversities in life.
MSUS: York is obviously known for its tough work ethic and business-like attitude towards races. What does the team do to have fun and lessen some of the pressure that may be put on your shoulders?
TA: Every year we have six groups of runners. Group six is the slowest group, but these guys make the team. I love seeing these guys running and working hard. They always are singing, and smiling, and making you laugh. That's one thing I love about York, it's one of the reasons we have so many kids join the team. We've got traditions passed down since 1960 that are incredibly fun, like 16 inch softball in the summer, the annual varsity picnic, the annual football game, awards and state series traditions, but it's too bad I can't take part in some of them because I am on the top seven. The team loves the program just as much as I do, even though we are business-like and have a harsh work ethic.
MSUS: With this being your senior year, do you have any favorite college choices at this point?
TA: Well, a few colleges have contacted me, but the ones that are standing out to me right now are the University of Illinois, Iona, Iowa and Georgetown. It is going to be interesting to see how it plays out.
MSUS: Many interviews focus on the training and racing part of an athlete, as this one did. So, what do you do for fun in your free time outside of running? And, is there anything you might want to share about yourself (i.e. hidden talent)?
TA: I like food. And I sleep a lot. I wouldn't call it a talent, but I think if someone wants to challenge me to ping pong or Halo, I'm down.